Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are allotropes of carbon with a cylindrical nanostructure. Nanotubes have been constructed with length-to-diameter ratio of up to 28,000,000:1, which is significantly larger than any other material. These cylindrical carbon molecules have novel properties that make them potentially useful in many applications in nanotechnology, electronics, optics and other fields of materials science, as well as potential uses in architectural fields. They exhibit extraordinary strength and unique electrical properties, and are efficient conductors of heat. Their final usage, however, may be limited by their potential toxicity.
Nanotubes are members of the fullerene structural family, which also includes the spherical buckyballs. The ends of a nanotube might be capped with a hemisphere of the buckyball structure. Their name is derived from their size, since the diameter of a nanotube is on the order of a few nanometers (approximately 1/50,000th of the width of a human hair), while they can be up to several millimeters in length (as of 2008). Nanotubes are categorized as single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) and multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs).
The nature of the bonding of a nanotube is described by applied quantum chemistry, specifically, orbital hybridization. The chemical bonding of nanotubes is composed entirely of sp2 bonds, similar to those of graphite. This bonding structure, which is stronger than the sp3 bonds found in diamonds, provides the molecules with their unique strength. Nanotubes naturally align themselves into "ropes" held together by Van der Waals forces. Under high pressure, nanotubes can merge together, trading some sp² bonds for sp³ bonds, giving the possibility of producing strong, unlimited-length wires through high-pressure nanotube linking.